The area of present day Giżycko with its population of 30 thousand was once inhabited by a tribe named “Galinda”, a pagan Prussian tribe which had its temples on the islands of Wielka Kiermuza and Duży Ostrów. The Order of Teutonic Knights, brought to Poland in 1226, spent 50 years conquering this territory and building their monastic state, which was to last for over 200 years. The Order brought settlers from Poland and Germany and introduced Christianity and the Galinda tribe disappeared along with their language and rituals.
The Crusaders erected castles, one of which was built in 1283 on the site of an old Prussian stronghold (the present day castle originates from the early 14th century). Around the castle, a village called Nowa Wieś was set up. It was later demolished, along with the castle during the thirteen-years’ war. The location was renewed in 1475 based on a foundation privilege granted by the Brandenburg commander Bernhard von Baltzhofen. Margrave Albrecht Frederic later elevated the village to the rank of town and gave it the name of Lec. After many years of efforts and many petitions, on 15 May 1612, Lec received city rights from Prussian Duke Jan Sigmund Hohenzollern.
The privilege of using a seal and a coat of arms was granted to the town on 26 May 1612. Lec’s coat of arms features three bream fish placed one above the other, with the one in the middle being somewhat larger. Legend has it that the Grand Elector on his visit to Lec was treated to a dinner of bream fish caught by local fishermen in lake Niegocin. He was so grateful that he decided to grant the town a coat of arms with three bream fish in it, and its inhabitants received the right to fish in Niegocin.
It was at that time that the spelling of the town’s name was established as Lötzen. The Mazurians who lived here, however, preferred Lec, the original name. Proud of the city privileges gained, as soon as in 1613, they erected a town hall. The town’s development was obstructed by wars, fires, plagues and years of poor crops. The most significant changes were brought by the 19th century, when Giżycko became a district town. A new Protestant church was built and later consecrated in 1827. In 1844, construction began of the Boyen Fortress, as well as roads and canals connecting the Mazurian Lakes. Other projects included comprehensive land drainage and reclamation, and the introduction of a steamship service. What affected the city to the greatest extent was the opening of a railway line in 1868.
In addition, the 67-hectare municipal forest, granted to the town along with its city rights, was finally developed. In it, a restaurant was built with a viewing tower, as well as fish ponds, shooting galleries and foot paths. The forest was connected with the town with a lime alley (part of which has survived to this day). Thanks to The Forest District of Giżycko, in 2000 the forest was restored to its former glory and the carefully devised natural and educational paths make it more approachable and interesting. The municipal forest boast a number of monumental trees, including five oaks, the oldest of which, called “Wojtek”, is 640 years old!
Giżycko in the period between the wars was known as a resort and water sports centre, which it was socially appropriate to visit. Guests had numerous hotels, guesthouses, villas, hostels as well as a smart yacht marina, a swimming pool, a concert hall, a library and a few cinemas all waiting for them. Tourists were welcome at restaurants, cafes, beer cellars, boat rentals and bathing beaches. New rowing and sailing clubs were being set up, Lake Niegocin hosted its first iceboating races and a ski jump was constructed.
After the war, the new history of the town began. The name was changed into Łuczany. The present name of Giżycko, in honour of Gustav Gizewiusz, a pro-Polish activist in Mazury, has been used since 4 March 1946. The de-populated town saw new settlers arriving with their own customs, rites, languages and religions. A new community was beginning to take shape. At present, apart from Poles, Giżycko is home to Ukrainians, Germans, Byelorussians, Lithuanians and Tatars.